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Readers Respond: How to Understand Abstract Art

Responses: 51


What does abstract art mean and how do you begin to understand it? Does abstract art have any meaning, or is it all about the pleasing arrangement of colors and shapes? Do artists paint abstracts because they haven't the skills to do realism? Or is eliminating a recognizable subject the ultimate form of artistic expression? Share your views on creating and understanding abstract art here.

It takes courage to appreciate it....

Before I started painting I scoffed at abstract art. I was one of those "my cat can do that" believers I decided to take an abstract class. I was humbled by my arrogance. After you paint onto the canvas it can be very difficult to "mess it up" ( which is pretty much required) and then "resolve" it. You never have to resolve a tree, an apple, a flower. Abscrate art requires the ability to suspend reality and trust your intuition. It also takes courage to " get it" when you are amoungst concrete thinkers....

What You See is What is There

It is entirely up to the viewer to discern the content and meaning of what is painted. It is impossible to discern what the artist had in mind because you do not know whether he was in 'artist mode' or 'human mode' at the time he painted the picture. Just because an artist has a certain background, upbringing, ethnicity, or experiences etc does not mean that everything he does is tempered by those factors. The message or emotion is in the eye of the beholder, not the eye of the creator. The artist's creativity is in drawing out an emotion or an interpretation from the viewer. If this interpretation differs from what was intended by the artist (if indeed anything he intended anything), this in no way invalidates the interpretation placed on the work by any individual viewer.
—Guest Michael

My Journey

I have recently awakened to an interest in abstract art (from realism). This new art interest has stemmed from a wish to interpret what I see rather than merely replicate what I see. With this in mind I see abstract art as being very individualistic with a large emotional component. Therefore, to "understand" abstract art is to look for or attempt to understand the artist's message. I also think it important to be aware of what emotions and thoughts the art evokes in me.
—Guest Lynne

About the Process

Abstract art is about the process, not the single work. You have to consider the artist's entire life and body of work. You cannot just jump into making abstract art. You have to earn the right to create it and let abstract art evolve on its own.
—Guest baron

Abstract Poetry

I think that abstract art is a window into the soul of the artist; kind of like poetry in color.
—Guest JamilahAm


Don't understand why realist painters are so afraid of abstract art. To each their own. I make abstract art for myself. It's my original thought on canvas. Be upset with the camera.
—Guest Jbc

Future/Past - Known/Unknown

My real interest is innovation and how it occurs, and to me abstract art better describes innovation than realist art. Not 'abstract art actually describes innovation and realist art never' but 'abstract art better describes'. If I am going to produce a realist image then I already know, essentially, what I am going to place on the canvas, and the result will, hopefully, be recognisable by the viewer. This is because they will know what they are looking at. It is a form of image they have seen before. It is from our past. Showing the future has a problem - we have not yet seen it. To be innovative in the design of a project I have to be able to create something of a type that does not yet exist, that I do not yet even know of. When I do an abstract it has more of this unknown, and the unknown is something I generally relate with the future because it is there I get to learn of it. There is, therefore, no question whether realism or abstract is better or if either is art.
—Guest TrevorB

Conveys the Soul of the Artist

Abstract art can convey the soul of the artist. It leaves so much to the spectator that there can be a union of spirits. It is, for an artist, more difficult than literal art. With the spectator much is left to the imagination which is where truth can be found.

Abstract Art is one of the highest forms

Good abstract art is one of the the highest forms of art. It takes a lot of courage, confidence and a deep understanding of all of the basic fundamental rules of art to come together intuitively. If we desire to create a pleasing arrangement of colour, texture, tone, and all that is included in a breath-taking abstract, we first of all need to understand the basics of composing. Then after the technical skills are learned, we can work from intuition, imagination and self expression to inject truth, poetry, humour, emotion and breathe soul into the artwork. The challenge is to not be tempted into representing something (anything at all) and to be able to use space effectively. I admire great abstract artists and it is obvious when a great abstract artwork comes before our eyes, we are moved in some way (good or bad) emotionally. I absolutely love Jackson Pollock, Wassily Kandinsky and the great masters of abstract art.
—Guest cindy wider

Abstract Art

How else can you express your soul, your spirit, your heart? Abstract is like music without words, you need not understand it, yet for each who go with it's flow there is meaning in a sphere beyond the mediocre. It is food for the soul.
—Guest ester snyman

Abstract Art

When you have nothing to say, there is always self expression.
—Guest Kelly Mallory

Reality Before Abstract

An artist, even an abstract artist, should be able to paint realistic art as well if he is to truly call himself an artist. Look at the abstract artist from the past; most if not all of them who created abstract art painted in more realistic art prior to moving to abstract. They were experimenting, playing with color and space because they were bored painting traditional art. But at least they could paint traditional art many abstract artists today do not really understand design, color, or how to use space.
—Guest B0B


All I want from my abstract art is for the viewer to have a reaction. Love, hate, indifference, etc. that doesn't matter so long as there is a reaction. I paint abstracts for myself and if someone happens to have good or bad reaction to it, then that is all that matters. I have done what my heart desires.
—Guest lostartistfound

Abstract Art

Serious abstract art is stilll subject to the same rules as all other art. The rules of composition, value, color, etc., however many abstract "artists" completely ignore this fact. Many people who do abstract apparently cannot paint and are too lazy to learn the basics of painting an acceptable picture. When the average person looks at abstract art with a very critical eye. Even untrained people can feel it if something is wrong with a painting. They may not know what it is, but it is there. This is what makes abstract art so unpopular with the general public. Many "intellectuals" claim to see hidden meanings to some other pseudo-intellectual produced scribbles that we unlearned Neanderthals lack the intellect to understand. However, good abstract art that is created with all of the rules of good art in mind is every bit as much a work as any other. There is very little of this quality of abstract art to be found, though.
—Guest Alvin D

I Love Semi-Abstracts

Being an abstract and symbolic artist myself I feel this is the most difficult. It is beautiful feeling and a process of laying paints over and over any maybe umpteen times till you are satisfied. Each painting has an individual identity and abstract art is unique. Viewers get a glimpse of the feelings and emotions of the artist. Our educated minds are so used to finding some meaning in any thing so we just cannot let go and feel free. Our mind always comes to certain conclusions or explanations for the work. This is a highly evolved and difficult art technique as the results are not always mind blowing. I have one work that is abandoned ... I just had to stop as all the colours overlapped and got muddied. Very rarely does an artist create a masterpiece in abstract, it requires clear thoughts, happy mood, time and patience, and if you have made an attractive abstract work which the viewers like then you are lucky!
—Guest Mrs. Rizwana A.Mundewadi
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